Three in four people report rise in PPE litter since coronavirus

Our poll shows that over a third of adults in England (38%) have seen more litter near to where they live since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on our throwaway culture and England’s broken waste and litter system
  • The government needs to do far more to tackle litter and support local authorities to create comprehensive refuse and recycling systems
  • This includes tackling PPE littering by promoting the benefits of re-usable masks where possible and encouraging people to dispose of any single-use masks responsibly.

Over a third of adults in England (38%) have seen more litter near to where they live since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and over three quarters (76%) have noticed more Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) being littered, according to a new YouGov poll, commissioned by CPRE, the countryside charity.

Four in five people (78%) would like to see the government take more action to tackle the scourge of litter. CPRE is therefore calling on the government not to delay and stick to its original timetable for a fully inclusive Deposit Return Scheme to reduce waste and litter and boost recycling.

Commenting on the findings, Isla Lester, 9-year-old anti-litter advocate and CPRE ‘Green Clean’ participant, said:

‘I think more people should litter pick and think before they act, so the world can be much cleaner, much faster. This could be tackled in 2 ways: educationally and practically.

‘It would be good if environmental issues were part of school lessons. Children need to be shown what polluting our planet really does. We need to see it for ourselves by going outside – having trips to the sea to look at the impact that litter has on beaches and sea life, and then doing things like litter picking. I think local businesses should also help by putting things in place to not add to waste in their areas but to get rid of it.

‘I just want more people to follow me and make the world a better place. We need everybody to work as a team to make a difference.’

During the coronavirus pandemic, litter rates have risen in many areas across England. Ever-present wrappers, cartons, bottles and cups have been joined by plastic gloves and facemasks, all building up in our countryside. Litter has been a major problem for decades, but the lockdown has led to new types and unprecedented levels in different places. This is reflected in the YouGov poll which quizzed nearly two thousand respondents (1964) across England on their perceptions of changes in litter since March 2020, finding that:

  • Over three quarters (76%) of respondents noticed more Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) litter since the start of lockdown with nearly half (48%) noticing a lot more;
  • Over one in three people (38%) noticed more litter near to where they live since the start of lockdown, while a third (34%) noticed about the same amount of litter;
  • 39% of respondents noticed more fly-tipping since the start of lockdown; and
  • Just over three-quarters of the English public (78%) agree that the government should be taking more action to tackle litter, including a third (33%) who strongly agree government should be doing more;

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said:
‘Litter is a completely avoidable blight that currently scars our countryside. As more people than ever before venture into their local green space or countryside next door, it’s crucial that the government redoubles efforts to tackle litter and stops it pilling up in our beautiful countryside.

‘That’s why ministers must follow through on pledges to tackle the scourge of litter. By investing in whole system solutions to address litter, including a fully inclusive Deposit Return Scheme, we can deal with the long-lasting problem once and for all.

‘That means no more delays on a fully inclusive Deposit Return Scheme, which should be introduced by 2023 at the latest. Hugely successful in other European countries, these schemes are proven to help drive unprecedented recycling rates and ensure thousands of tonnes of litter don’t end up in the countryside. We need a waste system that is responsive to changes in behavior – our current system has been failing for a long time, the pandemic simply put a spotlight on the waste crisis and it’s high time ministers stepped in.’

On the back of a wave of public support, the government set out plans for how they would better deal with resources and waste in 2018. Over two years later, these plans continue to be delayed further following pressure from drinks manufactures, among others. The poll reveals a delay would be against public opinion and there is a large appetite for government and business action. Three in five adults (60%) agree that organisations that produce single-use items should do more to ensure they’re disposed of in the right way.

The poll has also revealed stark changes in where the public is spending their time in light of coronavirus-related regulations and the ‘Litter in lockdown’ study shows that where people go, litter follows. These include:

  • One in three people (34%) reported spending more time in the countryside since the start of lockdown;
  • One in three adults (32%) have spent more time in parks and this rises to 44% for those who have children under the age of 4; and
  • Three-quarters of the public (75%) have spent less time in inner-city high streets and 69% have spent less time in local high streets showing a major shift in where people spend their time.

Alongside the poll, CPRE is launching Litter in lockdown, a study that looks at trends in litter and waste since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. The study will be launched at an online event attended by Environment Minister Rebecca Pow MP; Isla Lester, 9-year-old anti-litter advocate and CPRE ‘Green Clean’ participant; Cat Chapman, co-author of the ‘Litter in lockdown’ study; and Feryal Clark MP, member of the Environmental Audit Committee.

Please call our Media Relations Lead, Jonathan Jones, on 07739 332 796 for further information.

Notes to editors

About the YouGov Poll

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov plc. The total sample size was 1,978 adults in England. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th – 27th November 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+) and then filtered on England respondents.

For the full set of results, please contact Jonathan Jones.

About CPRE’s ‘Litter in lockdown’ study

The ‘Litter in lockdown’ study was conducted by Catherine Chapman and Karen Bomford between April date and October 2020. It used litter surveying, testimony from local authority officers and the CPRE network and a comprehensive review of media articles to analyse trends in litter and waste during the coronavirus outbreak. It examines changes in the way people have been littering during the pandemic, the types and locations of litter, and the additional pressure of discarded PPE, such as disposable face masks and gloves.

About Isla Lester, Isla Lester, 9-year-old anti-litter advocate and CPRE ‘Green Clean’ participant

Isla began her eco journey in 2017/18 joining her first school’s eco club. She quickly became engaged with the work that the eco club was doing, promoting many things on behalf of the school. This included taking part in the Fiver Challenge, educating local businesses and councillors about plastic pollution and litter, travelling to London to discuss the deposit return system with then Environmental Secretary Michael Gove MP. She was acknowledged for this work and the time she gave for litter picking around her local area, both on her own and with local companies such as the Weymouth Sea Life Centre by being awarded Volunteer Dorset’s Young Volunteer of the Year award in 2019.